The 2017-19 operating budget has passed
The legislature was busy last week – as you may have heard, we passed a budget before the end of the fiscal year, in time to avoid a government shutdown. We now have a budget for the 2017-19 biennium that funds schools, mental health care, environmental protection, higher education, housing and childcare assistance programs, and other important functions of the state government.
Education funding and McCleary
The biggest challenge facing us throughout session was how to comply with the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision and amply fund our state’s public schools. For years, school districts have been using local levy dollars to supplement inadequate funding of the state’s program of basic education. As a result, the quality of the education that students receives can differ drastically based on where they live, which the court found to be unconstitutional.
The McCleary agreement reached by budget negotiators invests $7.3 billion in schools statewide over the next four years. This is a significant investment and I believe it goes a long way towards fulfilling our constitutional obligations while maintaining important aspects of local control.
However, my concerns about the way we funded that investment ultimately led me to vote no. In order to fund this greater revenue to schools (without draconian cuts to the social safety net), we raised property taxes in many districts across the state, including Renton, Seattle, and Issaquah. I am disappointed that we asked middle-class homeowners to bear this cost, instead of the progressive revenue measures proposed in the House Democrats’ budget. I am also concerned that the funding is unsustainable, because it relies on transfers from the budget stabilization account and a suspension of the 1 percent cap on property taxes. Year five of this funding plan could put us back where we began.
There are also questions about the equity impacts of the distribution of this funding. While the plan may give equivalent amounts of money to districts based on size and other factors, it does not adequately account for the greater need of some districts than others.
I am grateful for the hard work of the budget negotiators and legislative staff, and I think this is a good step forward. However, I believe that we as a state can do better when it comes to equitably funding public education.
Outside of the education plan, the budget passed last week makes great investments in working families in Washington. Some of the investments we made include:
- Supports early learners and working families by expanding the number of Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) slots and increasing ECEAP and Working Connections Childcare rates;
- Makes college more affordable by increasing the number of State Need Grants available to students that qualify;
- Invests an additional $12 million in public health and secures over $1.5 billion in federal Medicaid waiver dollars, which will be used to fight the opioid crisis, integrate physical and behavioral health, reduce homeless rates, and increase support for in-home family caregivers;
- Increases funding for housing assistance programs;
- Creates the new Department of Children, Youth, and Family Services;
- Funds the collective bargaining agreements for state workers;
- Fully funds Clean Air Rule and backfills lost federal support for Puget Sound cleanup effort.
While the state operating budget that keeps state agencies open and fully funds schools passed, the Legislature is not done. After House Democrats and Republicans got together to pass a nearly-unanimous (only one vote against) capital budget at 3:30am on Saturday morning, Senate Republicans refused to consider it. Senate Republicans want to tie the capital budget to a Supreme Court case on water rights that also needs to be addressed – but separately.
$4.17 billion in infrastructure projects throughout the state are still in limbo without a Capital Budget. Those projects include the construction of new schools and school repairs, investments in clean drinking water, salmon recovery programs, housing programs, and expanding and upgrading mental health facilities. In the 11th District, it includes critical funding for the Renton Sunset Park – a community green space planned for the Sunset Area of Renton.
Paid family leave
On Friday, Washington became only the fifth state in the nation with a statewide paid family and medical leave policy. This is incredibly important for working families in our state: the time after a birth of a child is crucial for infant development and family stability; and allows workers to spend time with loved ones with health issues. My son Sebastian and I attended the bill signing with my wife Gabriela.
The Legislature created a PFMLP in 2007, but never funded it – effectively delaying implementation until this year. Beginning in 2020, workers will be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid medical or family leave, with a combined annual maximum of 16 total weeks. Workers and employers will share the cost of premiums, which will go into a statewide insurance system. Read more about the policy here.
I had one of my most successful legislative sessions in 15 years at this job: 11 bills that I either sponsored or pushed for were passed into law. This includes:
- Ballot drop boxes: My favorite bill this session was one that will add 250 new ballot drop boxes statewide. At the next election, it will be easier to find a drop box and vote. I was instrumental in getting this bill, which came out of the Senate on a unanimous bipartisan vote, through a tense and partisan House vote.
- Election reconciliation reports: This bill will assemble elections data (including turnout and voting methods) collected by county auditors into one statewide report, allowing us to better analyze the strengths and weaknesses of our electoral system.
- Theatrical wrestling: A few years ago, a constituent approached me with a problem. Small businesses, artists, and community organizations were struggling to host theatrical wrestling and lucha libre events because of inappropriate regulations. I worked with the Department of Licensing to right-size these regulations and make it easier to practice this great sport.
Open Public Meetings Act and cybersecurity: This bill allows local governments to go into closed “executive” session when discussing IT security breaches. This keeps all of us safer because making the specifics of cybersecurity attacks public increases the risk of copycat attacks.
You can see more details about my legislative session by going to this legislative website and selecting my name from the drop-down menu.
Thank you for your interest in the legislature and our community. I hope you enjoy the summer weather with your families.